Grammar Schools - My thoughts

Grammar Schools - My thoughts

I have learnt that you need to let the dust settle with a great deal of the recent education policy announcements.  So as we survey the opinions and articles both for and against, I would like to offer my own thoughts on the matter. I have learnt that although there is a clear position from the education establishment that this is a terrible idea, this is a political decision and it has support amongst elements of the public. 

I think I understand where elements of this support come from. Parents want to have the best for their child, they want access to the elite universities and elite careers as it is hard to ensure social mobility in these times.  But that is exactly what this is about a (very small) few would benefit at the expense of the many.  In truth this would simply strengthen the existing elites as current local authority grammar schools have very few working class children.  Only 3% (3%!!!) of grammar school children are in receipt of pupil premium.   At our academy it is 52%. 

Sir Michael Wilshaw the outgoing Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (Head of Ofsted) said last month in the Times Educational Supplement:

"The idea that poor children will benefit from a return of grammar schools is "tosh" and "nonsense", says the outgoing chief inspector of Ofsted. Sir Michael Wilshaw said a return to selection at 11 years old would be a "profoundly retrograde step" that would lead to sliding standards."

For every grammar school that is created at least three secondary moderns are also created, by their very definition grammar schools are elitist. If anything has come out of this debate around grammar schools it has been that many people have recalled how scarred they were by not passing the 11 plus.  At least three quarters of all children are deemed to be not good enough simply by passing or failing a test when they were 11 years old. 

The main argument that I have heard advocating grammar schools come from those that attended them and that they worked for them.  The idea of the working class boy or girl doing well despite a modest start in life is one that is very powerful. 

I might offer my own experience here as this blog is about some of my personal views. When I was at primary school I was what would now be called a "pupil premium" student.  I was precisely the sort of student that Theresa May has in mind with her arguments about the return of grammar schools. I gained a place at an independent school through the government's Assisted Place scheme, which is now also part of the new grammar school proposal. My family never paid a penny to go to this illustrious grammar school.  I did well, I succeeded, I went to a good university and gained a good degree which has led to a successful career.

So why am I not banging the drum of grammar schools?

Apart from my professional objections outlined above, I also have personal objections.  In many ways I am lucky.  I got a golden ticket at 11 years old, but many of my friends around me did not. These people are still my friends today. They were not afforded the same aspirations, challenge or opportunities as the state education system was very different to that of today. Young people who were every bit as intelligent and skilled as me were not invested in and consequently did not go on to university and did not reach their potential.  

I have been in education a long time, I have seen state education develop and grow to the very strong position it is in now. The equivalent of my friends who did not reach their potential are now few and far between. The state sector knows how to embed aspiration in its young people better than it ever has.  We don't need grammar schools to improve education we just need great schools for all, not for some. 

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